Issue of the Week: What Makes Wildlife Habitat?

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As conservationist we use the term habitat frequently. It is thrown around in wide-ranging conversations and the detailed elements associated with habitat are often lost in the phrasing. Wildlife species have requirements that must be met by their habitat for survival. Components of habitat are food, water, shelter, and space.  Habitat for wildlife is often classified based on ecosystems, large areas with distinct combinations of animals and plants, like forests or deserts. However, these generalities do not encompass the complex nature of habitats.

All life needs food and water. Nutrition affects birth and death rates and is important in the overall survival of any wild animal population. Some species, like raccoons and possums, are able to eat a variety of things. However, specifics of a species diet can dictate where they are able to live and survive. Panda’s diets are made up of almost entirely bamboo, and therefore pandas have only been able to survive in bamboo dominated forests.

Shelter provides a species protection and enhances its survival. When considering the characteristics of shelter you must consider type of vegetation and the landscape a species uses, as well as other specific requirements for nesting, hibernation and diet. While some species are not very selective about their shelter requirements, others need particular features present.  For example, spotted owls require old trees for nesting and roosting, but need open fields for hunting.


Additionally, each wildlife species requires a certain amount of space to move, evade or escape potential predators, locate a mate, obtain food and water, and rest. This space is referred to as the home range of an animal. Space requirements are behavioral and social responses that have taken hundreds of years to develop. The amount of space required is determined by the quantity and quality of food, cover, and water found in an area. There are other factors affecting space needs of wildlife such as the size of the animal or its dietary preferences, for example carnivores generally require more space than herbivores.

Simply having considerable amounts of food, shelter, or water does not ensure abundant wildlife. A species needs each component of habitat to survive. The needs of a particular species may be intricate and complex. Wildlife managers work to maintain the relationship between these components and each species while also balancing the needs of the entire ecosystem. This difficult task requires a multifaceted approach and their efforts are necessary for continued wildlife conservation.

Twice a week, SCI Foundation informs readers about conservation initiatives happening worldwide and updates them on SCI Foundation’s news, projects and events. Tuesdays are dedicated to an Issue of the Week and Thursday’s Weekly Updates will provide an inside look into research and our other science-based conservation efforts. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more SCI Foundation news. 

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